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he has published six ideological novels and he has given
us seven collections of essays, partly entertaining, partly
didactic, of which Le Voyage de Sparte is the latest.
His literary activity has been great, and yet he has not
confided too exclusively in literature. Perhaps no
French author of his generation has come out of litera-
ture into life with so much impetuous curiosity as M.
Maurice Barres. He was brought up among the Par-
nassians, was taken by them into their ivory city, and
heard the gates shut behind him, with the world outside.
He was received, as an ardent youth, into the passionless
and arrogant intimacy of Leconte de Lisle and of
Heredia. But he could not breathe within those walls,
and he soon broke out, occupying himself with the very
thing that the poets and scholars of his youth despised,
moral ideas and the relation of human thought to
human conduct.

The public formed its earliest impression of M. Barres
as of a young man peacocking in an extreme and laugh-
able vanity. His early writings were unblushingly
concerned with himself and he disdained to consider



M. Maurice Barres 293



whether this particular subject was at present interesting
to his readers. Such titles as L'Ennemi des Lois, Sous
I'CEil des Barbares and Le Culte du Mot were caps thrown
with great precision at the moon. Nothing is more
unaccountable than the charm or the disgust produced
by egotism. Individualities are like odours, and some
repel as fantastically as others attract. M. Barres's
is to his readers as that of nemophila is to cats ; it simply
cannot be resisted. But he is not one of those egotists
who seek for nothing but a personal triumph. On the
contrary, there has been no more curious example than
his of an author who has captured his audience only
that he may hold it under his finger and thumb. M.
Maurice Barres has danced through the villages wearing
his motley and shaking his bells, but merely that he
might collect a stream of followers and take them with
him to church. He is still the merriest of preachers ;
he totters with laughter, sometimes, as he mounts the
steps of his pulpit, but he makes no secret any longer
of its being a pulpit, and his hearers now quite under-
stand that they have come to him for the salvation of
their souls.

For M. Barres — as we may see now, looking back —
with his exquisite refinement, his delicately-toned
gradations of moral feeling, has never been, could never
be, a vulgar egotist. He has gradually come to be the
most charming, but the most serious teacher of his
day. He has observed that tlie achievement of civic
liberty in the nineteenth century was not accomplished
without great sacrifices. He sees life in France im-
poverished by the removal of discipline. He has become
aware that the tumultuous haste of the present has cast
away all manner of precious things that were bequeathed
to it by the past. He insists on the importance of



294 French Profiles



tying up again the loose ends of that cord which used to
bind us to history, since by forcing ourselves from it
we have cruell}' cut ourselves off from a stream of
hereditary energy. M. Barres, in an age which prides \
itself upon the independence of the living, has recalled
the youth of France to the worship of the dead. In all
these aspects, the work he has done, and is doing, is
immense; with no exaggeration, a master of ^Ji_earlier
generation, M. Paul Bourget, has called him " le plus
efhcace serviteur, peut-etre, a I'heure presente, de la
France eternelle." And if the lesson of M. Maurice
Barres is pre-eminently addressed to France, there are
numberless aspects in which it may be a message, in
these times of crisis, to England also.

Those who are familiar with the processes of M.
Barres's mind will know what to expect in Le Voyage
de Sparte, and they will not be disappointed. As a
traveller, M. Maurice Barres is a little less circum-
stantial than Stevenson, perhaps a little more than
Sterne. The chapter entitled " Je quitte Mycenes "
irresistibly reminds one of a page in Tristram Shandy.
" ' Where,' continued my father, ' is Mytilene ? What
is become, brother Toby, of Cyzicum and Mytilene ? ' "
What, indeed ! And the reflection of the French tourist
mainly resolves itself into this Shandean formula : "It
was great fun for Schliemann, no doubt, to discover the
seventeen splendid corpses, but what do / get ? It is
the truffle-dog that carries off the truffle." The Argive
tombs were empty, and all that M. Barres carried away
from Tiryns was rather less emotion than the bones of
an ichthyosaurus would have given him. The aim of
Le Voyage de Sparte is to distinguish between true and
false enthusiasm, to define exactly what the emotion is
which the ruins of Greek civilisation inspire. Clear your



M. Maurice Barres 295

minds of cant, this preacher says, and enter the great,
rough Albanian village which is Athens, with an honest
imagination. M. Barres piously sees the usual sij^hts ;
he visits the shrines with humility, but he is intent on
a faithful analysis of his sensations. His object in
travelling is not aesthetic. He has not come for the
landscape ; he has not come, as Leconte de Lisle would
come, to reinstitute a supposititious perfection of
plasticity ; nor come, as Renan would come, to maintain
the divinity of Pallas Athene. He has come, as a
Frenchman of Lorraine, solicitous for the soul of his
race, to see what benefice moral he can extract from this
remote, dim world of ancient beauty. He has come,
not to wash away the prose of his old life in a vague
poetic flow, but to see how he can enrich it. He has
come to find out what Eleusis and Corinth and Sparta
have to give him, by means of which he can live a fuller
life on the wooded plains of Lorraine; not be a sort
of false Greek, but a wiser and more wholesome rural
Frenchman. " Benefice moral ! " How far those words,
in the mouth of the most influential French writer
of the day, take us from the " L'Art pour I'art " cry of
five-and-twenty years ago !
1906,



M. HENRI DE RfiGNIER



M. HENRI DE REGNIER

Les Jeux Rustiques et Divins

The determination of the younger French writers
to enlarge and develop the resources of their national
poetry is a feature of to-day, far too persistent and
general to be ignored. Until a dozen years ago, the
severely artificial prosody accepted in France seemed
to be one of the literary phenomena of Europe the most
securely protected from possible change. The earliest
proposals and experiments in fresh directions were
laughed at, and often not undeservedly. No one outside
the fray can seriously admit that any one of the early
francs-tirenrs of symbolism made a perfectly successful
fight. But the number of these volunteers, and their
eagerness, and their intense determination to try all
possible doors of egress from their too severe palace of
traditional verse, do at last impress the observer with
a sense of the importance of the instinct which drives
them to these eccentric manifestations. Kenan said
of the early Decadents that they were a set of babies,
sucking their thumbs. But these people are getting
bald, and have grey beards, and still they suck their
thumbs. There must be something more in the whole
thing than met the eye of the philosopher. When the
entire poetic youth of a country such as France is
observed raking the dust-heaps, it is probable that
pearls are to be discovered.

It cannot but be admitted that M. Henri de Regniei

299



300 French Profiles

has discovered a large one, if it seems to be a little
clouded, and perhaps a little flawed. Indeed, of the
multitude of experiment-makers and theorists, he comes
nearest (it seems to me) to presenting a definitely
evolved talent, lifted out of the merely tentative order.
He stands, at this juncture, half-way between the
Parnassians and those of the symbohsts who are least
violent in their excesses. If we approach M. de Regnier
from the old-fashioned camp, his work may seem be-
wildering enough, but if we reach it from the other side —
say, from M. Rene Ghil or from M. Yvanhoe Rambosson
— it appears to be quite organic and intelligible. Here
at least is a writer with something audible to communi-
cate, with a coherent manner of saying it, and with a
definite style. A year or two ago, the publication of his
Poemes Anciens et Romanesques raised M. de Regnier,
to my mind, a head and shoulders above his fellows.
That impression is certainly strengthened by Les Jeiix
Rustiqiies et Divins, a volume full of graceful and beauti-
ful verses. Alone, among the multitude of young
experimenters, M. de Regnier seems to possess the
classical spirit ; he is a genuine artist, of pure and
strenuous vision. For years and years, my eloquent
and mysterious friend, M. Stephane Mallarme, has been
talking about verse to the youth of Paris. The main
result of all those abstruse discourses has been (so it
seems to me) the production of M. Henri de Regnier.
He is the solitary swallow that makes the summer for
which M. Mallarme has been so passionately imploring
the gods.

M. Henri de Regnier was bom at Honfleur in 1864,
and about 1885 became dimly perceptible to the enthu-
siastic by his contributions to those little revues, self-
sacrificing tributes to the Muses, which have formed



M. f^enri de Rcgnier 301

such a pathetic and yet such an encouraging feature of
recent French Hterature. He collected these scattered
verses in tiny and semi-private pamphlets of poetry, but
it was not until 1894 that he began to attract general
attention and that opposition which is the com})liment
time pays to strength. It was in that year that M. de
Regnier published AretJmse, in which were discovered
such poems as Peroraison : —

" O hic pur, j'ai jete mes flutes dans tos caux,
Que quelque autre, a son tour, les retrouve, roseaux,
Sur le bord pastoral ou leurs tiges sont nees
Et vertes dans I'Avril d'une plus belle Anncc !
Que toute la foret referme son automne
Mysterieux sur le lac pale ou j'abandonnc
Mes flutes de jadis mortes au fond des caux.
Le vent passe avec des feuilles ct des oiseaux
Au-dessus du bois jaune et s'en va vers la 2ilcr;
Et je veux que ton acre ecume, 6 flot amer,
Argente mes cheveux et fleurisse ma joue;
Et je veux, debout dans I'aurore, sur la proue,
Saisir le vent qui vibre aux cordes de la lyre,
Et voir, aupres des Sirenes qui les attirent
A I'ecueil ou sans lui nous naufragerions,
Le Dauphin scrviablc aux calmcs Arions."

But the vogue of his melancholy and metaphysical poetry,
with its alabastrine purity, its sumptuous richness, began
when the poet finally addressed the world at large in
two collections of lyrical verse, entitled Poemes Anciens
et Romanesques (1896) and Les Jeux Rustiqucs et Divins
(1897), when it was admitted, even by those who are
the most jealous guardians of the tradition in France,
that M. Henri de Rcgnier represented a power which
must be taken for the future into serious consideration.
It is scarcely necessary to remind ourselves, in reading
Les Jeux Rusiiques et Divins, of the Mallarmcan principle
that poetry should suggest and not express, that a series
of harmonious hints should produce the effect of direct



302 French Profiles

clear statement. In the opposite class, no better
example can be suggested than the sonnets of M. de
Heredia, which are as transparent as sapphires or topazes,
and as hard. But if M. de Regnier treats the same class
of subject as M. de Heredia (and he often does) the result
is totally different. He produces an opal, something
clouded, soft in tone, and complex, made of conflicting
shades and fugitive lights. In the volume before us we
have a long poem on the subject of Arethusa, the nymph
who haunted that Ortygian well where, when the flutes
of the shepherds were silent, the sirens came to quench
their thirst. We have been so long habituated, in
England by the manner of Keats and Tennyson, in
France by the tradition of the Parnassians, to more or
less definite and exhaustive portraiture, that at first
we read this poetry of M. de Regnier without receiving
any impression. All the rhythms are melodious, all
the diction dignified and pure, all the images appropriate,
but, until it has been carefully re-read, the poem seems
to say nothing. It leaves at first no imprint on the
mind; it merely bewilders and taunts the attention.

It is difficult to find a complete piece short enough for
quotation which shall yet do no injustice to the methods
of M. de Regnier; but Invocation Memoriale may serve
our purpose : —

" La main en vous touchant se crispe ct se contracte
Aux veines de I'onyx et aux ncEuds de I'agate,
Vases nus que I'amour en ccndre a faits des urnes !
O coupes tristes que je soupese, une a une,
Sans sourirc aux beautcs des socles ct des anses !
O passe longucment ou je goute en silence
Des poisons, des memoires acres ou le philtre
Qu'avec le souvenir encor I'espoir inliltre
Goutte a gouttc puise a d'ameres fontaines;
Et, nc voyant que lui ct dies dans moi-meme,
Je regarde, la-bas, par les fenetres hautes,
L'ombrc d'un cypres noir s'allonger sur les roses."



M. Henri de Regnier 303

The studied eccentricity of the rhymes may be passed
over; if fontaines and meme, hautes and roses, satisfy a
French ear, it is no business of an Enghsh critic to
comment on it. But the dimness of the sense of this
poem is a feature which we may discuss. At first
reading, perhaps, we shall find that the words have left
no mark behind them whatever. Read them again and
yet again, and a certain harmonious impression of liquid
poetic beauty will disengage itself, something uK^re in
keeping with the effect on the mind of the Ode to a
Grecian Urn, or the close of the Scholar Gypsy, than of
the purely Franco-Hellenic poetry of Andre Chenier or
of Leconte de Lisle. Throughout this volume what is
presented is a faint tapestry rather than a picture — dim
choirs of brown fauns or cream-white nymphs dancing
in faint, mysterious forests, autumnal foliage sighing
over intangible stretches of winding, flashing river; Pan
listening, the pale Sirens singing. Autumn stumbling on
under the burden of the Hours, thyrsus and caduceus
flung by unseen deities on the velvet of the shaven lawn
— everywhere the shadow of poetry, not its substance,
the suggestion of the imaginative act in a state of sus-
pended intelligence. Nor can beauty be denied to the
strange product, nor to the poet his proud boast of the
sanction of Pegasus : —

" J'ai vu le cheval rose ouvrir ses ailes d'or
Et, flairant Ic laurier que je tenais encor,
Verdoyant a jamais hier comme aujouru'hui,
Se cabrer vers le Jour et ruer vers la Nuit."

1897.

La Cite des Eaux

It may be conceded that the publication of a new
volume by M. Henri de Regnier is, for the moment, the



304 French Profiles

event most looked forward to in the poetical world of
France. The great poets of an elder generation, though
three or four of them survive, very rarely present
anything novel to their admirers, and of the active and
numerous body of younger writers there is no one,
certainly among those who are purely French by birth,
whose work offers so little to the doubter and the de-
tractor as that of M. de Regnier. He has been before
the public for sixteen or seventeen 3'ears; his verse is
learned, copious, varied, and always distinguished. Like
all the younger poets of France, he has posed as a revolu-
tionary, and has adopted a new system of aesthetics, and
in particular an emancipated prosody. But he has
carried his reforms to no absurd excess; he has kept
in touch with the tradition, and he has never demanded
more liberty than he required to give ease to the move-
ments of his genius. By the side of the fanatics of the
new schools he has often seemed conservative and
sometimes almost reactionary. He has always had too
much to say and too great a joy in saying it to be forever
fidgeting about his apparatus,

M. Henri de Regnier is much nearer in genius to the
Parnassians than any other of his immediate contem-
poraries. If he had been born a quarter of a century
earlier, doubtless he would be a Parnassian. In his
earliest verses he showed himself a disciple of M. Sully-
Prudhomme. But that was a purely imitative strain,
it would seem, since in the developed writing of M. de
Regnier there is none of the intimate analysis of feeling
and the close philosophic observation which characterise
the exquisite author of Les Vaines Tendresses. On the
other hand, in M. de Heredia we have a Parnassian whose
objective genius is closely allied, on several sides, to
that of the younger poet. The difference is largely one



M. Henri de Regnier 305



of texture; the effects of M. de Heredia are metallic,
those of M. de Regnier supple and silken. A certain
hardness of outline, which impairs for some readers the
brilliant enamel or bronze of Les Trophces is exchanged
in Lcs Jcux Riistiques el Divim and Les Medailles d'Argilc
for a softer line, drowned in a more delicate atmosphere.
This does not prevent M. de Heredia and M. de Regnier
from being the poets in whom the old and the new school
take hands, and in whom the historical transition may
be most advantageously studied.

La Cite des Eaux emphasises the conservative rather
than the revolutionary tendencies of the writer. In
two closely related directions, indeed, it shows a reaction
against previous movements made by M. de Regnier
somewhat to the discomfort of his readers. In the poetry
he was writing five or six years ago, he seemed to be
completely subdued by two enchanting but extremely
dangerous sirens of style — allegory and symbol. Some
of the numbers in Les Jcux Rustiques et Divins were
highly melodious, indeed, and full of colour, but so
allusive and remote, so determined always to indicate
and never to express, so unintelligible, in short, and so
vaporous, that the pleasure of the reader was very
seriously interfered with. The fascinating and perilous
precepts of Mallarme were here seen extravagantly at
work. If M. de Regnier had persisted in pushing further
and further along this nebulous path, we will not venture
to say that he would soon have lost himself, but he would
most assuredly have begun to lose his admirers. We are
heartily glad that in La Cite des Eaux he has seen fit
to return to a country where the air is more lucid, and
where men are no longer seen through the vitreous gloom
as trees walking.

M. de Regnier builds his rhyme with deep and glowing
X



3o6 French Profiles

colour. In this he is more like Keats than any other
recent poet. Whether in the mysterious eclogues of
antiquity which it used to please him to compose, or
in the simpler and clearer pieces of to-day, he is always
a follower of dreams. If the French poets were dis-
tinguished by flowers, as their Greek predecessors were,
the brows of M. Henri de Regnier might be bound with
newly-opened blossoms of the pomegranate, like those
of Menecrates in the garland of Meleager. His classical
pictures used to be extraordinarily gorgeous, like those
in Keat's Endymion, purpureal and over-ripe, hanging in
glutinous succession from the sugared stalk of the rhyme.
They are now more strictly chastened, but they have
not lost their dreamy splendour.

The desolation of the most beautiful of Roj'al gardens
has attracted more and more frequently of late the
curiosity of men of imagination. It inspired this j^ear
the fantastic and elegant romance of M. Marcel Batilliat,
Versailles-aux-Fantomes. But it has found no more
exquisite rendering than the cycle of sonnets which
gives its name to the volume before us. M. de Regnier
wanders through the pavilions and across the terraces
of Versailles, and everywhere he studies the effect of its
mossed and melancholy waters. He becomes hypnotised
at last, and the very enclosures of turf take the form of
pools to his eyes : —

" Lc gazon toujours vert rcsscmble au bassin glauque.
C'est lc mcmc carrc de verdure equivoque,
Dont le marbre ou le buis encadrent Therbe ou I'eau :
Et dans I'cau smaragdine ct I'hcrbe d'emeraudc,
Kegarde, tour a tour, crrer en ors rivaux
La jaune feuille morte et la cyprin qui rode."

The vast and monumental garden stretches itself before
us in these sonnets, with its invariable alleys of cypress



M. Henri de Regnier 307

and box, its porcelain dolphins, its roses floating across
the wasted marble of its statues, the strange autumnal
odour of its boscages and its labyrinths, and, above all,
still regnant, the majestic and monotonous fa9ade of
its incomparable palace.

For English readers the matchless choruses of Empc-
docles said the final word in poetry about Marsyas,
exactly fifty years ago. M. de Regnier, who has probably
never read Matthew Arnold, has taken a singularly
parallel view of the story in Le Sang de Marsyas, where
the similarity is increased by the fact that the French
poet adopts a form of free verse very closely analogous
to that used by Arnold in The Strayed Reveller and else-
where. The spirited odes, called La Course and Pan,
have the same form and something of the same Arnoldian
dignity. The section entitled Inscriptions lues au Soir
Tomhant — especially those lines which are dedicated to
" Lc Centaure Blessc " — might have been signed, in his
moments of most Hellenic expansion, by Landor. It
is not an accident that we are so frequently reminded,
in reading M. de Regnier's poems, of the English masters,
since he is a prominent example of that slender strain
which runs through French verse from Ronsard to Andre
Chenier, and on through Alfred de Vigny, where the
Greek spirit takes forms of expression which are really
much more English than Latin in their character. Of
the purely lyrical section of this charming volume it is
difficult to give an impression without extensive quota-
tion. We must confine ourselves to a single specimen
entitled La Lune Jaune : —

" Ce long jour a fini par unc lune jaune

Qui monte mollemcnt entre Ics peuplicrs,
Tandis que sc repand parmi Fair qu'clle cmbaumc
L'odeur de I'eau qui dort entre les joncs mouilles.



3o8



French Profiles



Savions-nous, quand, tous deux, sous le soleil torride,
Foulions la terrc rouge et le chaume blessant,

Savions-nous, quand nos pieds sur les sables arides

Laissaient leurs pas cmprcints comme dcs pas de sang,

Savions-nous, quand I'amour brulait sa haute flamme
En nos coeurs dechires d'un tourmcnt sans espoir,

Savions-nous, quand mourait le feu dont nous brulames,
Que sa cendre serait si douce a notre soir,

Et que cet apre jour qui s'acheve et qu'embaume
Unc odeur d'eau qui songe entre les joncs mouilles

Finirait mollement par cette lune jaune

Qui monte et s'arrondit entre les peupliers ? "



1903.



Les Vacances d'un Jeune Homme Sage

M. Henri de Rcgnier is one of the most distinguished
hving poets of France. But in writing Les Vacances
d'un Jeune Homme Sage he has attacked a new province
of Hterature, and has taken it by storm. M. de Regnier
has written several novels, — La Double Maitrcsse and Le
Bon Plaisir in particular — which have aimed at recon-
structing past eras of society. These books have been
remarkable for their ethical insouciance, their rough and
cynical disregard of prejudice. One has formed the
impression that M. Henri de Rcgnier's ambition was to
be a poet like Keats grafted upon a novelist like Smollett.
And the novels, with all their vigour, were not quite
what we sympathise with in this country. Curiously
enough, without giving us the least warning, M. de
Regnier has written, in a mood of pure laughter, a refined
little picture of real life in a provincial town of to-day.
He is deliciously sympathetic at last.

A boy (I beg his pardon — a young man) of sixteen,
Georges Dolonne, has the misfortune to be plucked for
his bachelor's degree at the Sorbonne. This is due



M. Henri de Regnier 309



partly to his shyness, and partly to his pre-occupations,
for he is very far indeed from being stupid. It is rather
a serious check, however, but his mother in her clemency
carries him away to the country for the holidays, to stay
with his great-uncle and aunt at the little town of
Rivray-sur-Vince. The story is simply a plain account
of how Georges spent this vacation, but in the course of
it every delightful eccentricity of the population of
Rivray is laid bare. I can imagine no pleasanter figures
to spend a few hours with than M. de la Boulerie, a
decayed old nobleman with a mania for heraldry; or
comfortable obese Madame de la Boulerie, whose rich


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